Sebastien’s story: A young Haitian earthquake survivor speaks

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© Delatour family photo
Haitian earthquake survivor Sebastien Delatour, 14, in a December 2009 photo.

NEW YORK, USA, 21 January 2010 – The earthquake in Haiti has wiped out the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of people and crippled essential services for some 3 million Haitians from all walks of life – ranging from the desperately poor to middle-class and the affluent.

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In the disaster’s aftermath, UNICEF and its partners are delivering life-saving support to children and families in need. Nearly half of all Haitians are under 18 years of age, and these children are UNICEF's top priority. They must be found, fed, kept alive and kept safe.

Sebastien Delatour, 14, feels more fortunate than many of his peers, even though his own family has suffered losses from the earthquake. Sebastien lives in a well-off suburb of the capital, Port-au-Prince. His cousin, Valerie Moore, is a project manager in the Division of Communication at UNICEF headquarters in New York. Earlier this week, Ms. Moore interviewed Sebastien by phone for UNICEF Radio in New York, giving him a chance to tell his story.

Grandparents lost
After the earthquake struck, Sebastien recalls, he heard his mother screaming as she ran outside. His sister was taking a shower and had fallen and hit her head. He couldn’t tell what was going on – at first, he thought someone was shooting at the house.

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© Delatour family photo
Sebastien’s grandparents both died when their home collapsed in the earthquake. Carmelle and Cavour Delatour were 88 and 89, respectively, and lived in Bourdon, Haiti.

Soon afterward, Sebastien received tragic news: His grandparents’ house had been flattened. For days, his father and uncles dug through the rubble, trying to find them. Finally, their bodies were retrieved. Carmelle and Cavour Delatour were 88 and 89, respectively, and lived in Bourdon.

“My grandfather was sitting on a chair watching TV, and [the house] fell on him,” says Sebastien. “He died instantly. He didn’t suffer.”

‘People are crying and yelling’
It took several days for the funeral home to accommodate the needs of the grieving Delatour family. In fact, Sebastien reports, there were so many people trying to bury their loved ones that fights broke out.

The situation in the streets shows how bad the problems are, with tens of thousands presumed dead and an estimated 300,000 homeless.

“It stinks,” says Sebastien. “It smells like death. People are crying and yelling. People are fighting with each other for food…. My dad told me that he has to be strong for all of us, and he can’t show that he’s crying. But I’m sure he did. I’m sure he cried in his room or something. But my mom, my mom – we all cried.”

Contact with friends
Sebastien is also nervous about his own extended family and friends, some of whom are staying in his family’s house, which remains standing.

He hasn’t talked to many of his friends since the earthquake. Of those he has been able to reach, one lost his father in the collapse of the Hotel Montana in Port-au-Prince. Another lost her home and several family members, and is now sleeping in the streets.

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© UNICEF/NYHQ2010-0050
Men gather at a table and chairs set up in the middle of a street devastated by the earthquake in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. People from all walks of life and socio-economic backgrounds have been affected by the disaster.

The friend told Sebastien she worries about her father’s continual trips into the ruins of her family’s home to get food, despite an unstable structure that could fall at any time.

“I’m fortunate, I guess, for having a house and water,” says Sebastien.

Security concerns

Although Sebastien’s school is standing, its walls are damaged and the structure is no longer safe. In any case, the teenager probably won’t be going back to that school. His parents are planning to send him to live with relatives in Miami.

“The prison broke. There’s prisoners out loose – really big criminals,” notes Sebastien. In light of this and other security concerns, his mother fears it is too dangerous for him to stay in Haiti. But he has other ideas.

“I want to stay in Haiti and help give food and water to people,” he says. “People told me that the aid hasn’t come yet and they’re running out of time.”


 

 

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19 January 2010: Earthquake survivor Sebastien Delatour, 14, talks to his cousin, UNICEF Project Manager Valerie Moore, by phone from Haiti.
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Earthquake in Haiti